Science Fiction Notes
Science Fiction and the New Dark Ages by Harold L. Berger Bowling Green UP, 1976.
In the 1970s, "Space Opera" is no longer popular, but the public still thinks that characterizes SF (think Star Trek original). In the 70s, the threat of technology and the endangered earth are the major themes.
SF operates as social criticism, satire, and philosophy. It is anti-Utopian.
SF is "a syndrome, the multiple symptoms of a world disease…the tendency of science and social progress…to cause more problems than it solves and …[to] turn solutions into problems.
Ch. 1 "The Threat of Science"
A. Hostility to Science (Dystopian Fiction) (3) occurs from 1955 on with "midcentury pessimism" (4). Think the atom bomb, cold war, arms races. Mid-20th C saw an "unprecedented loss of confidence in the future" (4). People had the sense that one event could destroy the world rather than that the future promised salvation. In critic Robert Sullivan's pessimistic observation, there was not sense of moral choice or obligation on the part of humans (5).
Aldous Huxley, seeing the same problems with science and technology as other writers and critics "takes a passionately moral stand" (7). He condemns scientists for "moral indifference" in their creation of WMDs. (7). [I Recall Einstein's and Oppenheimer's eventual horror Hiroshima and Nagasaki.] Most SF did not condemn science or technology but the inhumanity of their goals (8).
CS Lewis's SF trilogy sees the devil as using science (9). Berger considers Lewis not to be a medieval throwback but an enlightened humanist building on Christian theology (11). Although religion, science, and individuals all want power, science has a goal of only knowledge and so is least able to resist converting it into power (11). [Recall Faustus] Lewis seems prescient: he envisions men planet-hopping as they destroy earth and then alien cultures. [Recall Hawking on the destruction of earth [as today's reality] encouraging us to prepare the moon and Mars for human habitation. Lewis writes with the theme that humans "must live by values whose subjectivity places them beyond proving" (13). Lewis can be read as a dystopian writer in general who considers the limits of human power merciful since its worthwhile employment is in so little evidence (16).
ΚΚΚB. Man vs. Machine
(Pohl) The machine as a source of anxiety and discord. Earlier views saw it as sapping human strength. In 1976 SF treated machines as debasing or controlling humans vs. freeing and enriching them (17) Creativity was gone, freedom was compromised, "exploitation, disloyalty, greed, revenge, intolerance, were in their usual abundance. (17) Technology resulted in the devaluation of humans.
* Frederick Pohl's work is a "Major paradigm of dystopian fiction: a condition that in utopian fantasy brings happiness is distorted and brings misery" (19). Berger believes that the real problem of the age is that craftsmanship is now devalued and the self-worth it generated is gone. Also, to use excess goods, high-pressured sales approaches are needed. (20) [A Marxist reading]
Robert Sheckley's response to human decadence is to fuse "criminal vitality with the earth's technology and stability" –a "welcome prospect to awaken human action"(31). A counterpoint to this is when technology is devised to restrain humans from suicide prompted by technology (32).
*Philip L. Dick also writes about people as unfit custodians of technology, but yet they "may survive under its protective custody" ( 34). [Worse case scenarios: the AI in Matrix III restores order, peace, and beauty.]
ΚΚΚC. The Synthetic experience
"obliterated or diminished awareness of the self and the significance of experience by needless complication or mechanism, which excludes the slef from reality and full participation in its own life" (38) Society is controlled by those who want to divorce it from reality. (39) Huxley and Bradbury deal with these themes.
*SF usually sees synthetic experience as dehumanizing but some like Silverberg, avoid judgment (41). Dick also does this. Both see humans as "naturally addicted to [escape]" (42). Pohl also. If humans could escape into euphoria, they would let everything go to rot. (42). He implies we lack the will for authentic lives: partly because of anxiety. (42)
ΚΚΚD. Ignoble Utopias
BF Skinner's Walden II attacked by critics and by Berger for naivete. Skinner's child characters are behaviourly modified to live as perfect humans. (52). It is "based on…mechanistic philosophies" including that of Hobbes and "conditioned-reflex experiments of Pavlov" (54).
Some anti-utopians see human frailty as the foundation for "a nobler humanity" (64). Perfect virtue is problematic (65). Some writers see man's proneness to sin as God's gift: an antidote to Τself-robotization'" (69). [Think Clockwork Orange].
creates a dystopian "perfect world" (74). Millios
the "perfect city' to voluntarily go to a hellish city. They want to be dead rather than
conformed [spiritually dead] (75).
In these utopias there is
stagnaion, negation, and death" (77). Utopias can only be attained by diminishing humanity which cannot exist as a utopia (82).
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚII. The New Tyrannies
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚA. The Totalitarian State of the Future
Despotism: rule by the elite for their own benefit but which historically transforms to benevolence and then to public service (86).
Totalitarianism: System that attempts to change law to laws of history and nature where teh human is the embodiment of those laws. Here terror is continuous as new victims are continuously found (87). The ideal subjects of totalitarian govs are those who no longer distinguish fact from fiction and true from false [think 1984 or the votes this morning re. the War in Iraq and the Bush gov.]
Orwell's book is probably not concerned with the existence of human nature but still posits that certain things should not be done to humans (89). For Orwell the following are values: feeling and personal love and loyalty; physical pleasure; the past; language; axiomatic truth (90-91).
Forced conformity as the ultimate weapon of totalitarianism (94).In great totalitarian SF freedom and happiness are incompatible. Technology stresses our value system9s) and people surrender freedom for …happiness(?) (102)
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚB. The Mind Invasions
New technologies (truth drugs, computer memory banks, psych testing, subliminal ads, …) make the possibility of having our minds possessed a real threat (103). Robert Sheckley uses "mental denudation: as a theme in some of his stories (103). Today there is a big interest in ESP (104). Psionic sties may be response to the sense of more and more loss of privacy (104).
*Dick and Silverberg have dystopias that are a "peeper's heaven" (104). Dick has war and telepaths and precogs. No more privacy for one's mind. Silverberg's very rich resuscitated share minds of living hosts and hosts collect personas. (104). Piers Anthony and Robert Margriff create "Ultra Conscience" imprinted onto social outcasts plus a ring that shocks them when they violate the conscience (107). Heinlein adds an alien mind control to the mix. His is an allegory of "modern anxiety regarding the preservation of freedom" (108).
Siverberg's Passengers also has mind-invading aliens. Possession in this story " has become a condition of life, like the common cold" (109). It demands the reader examine what s/he tolerates.
Heinlein's They (1941) "taps into the universal paranoia…that…what we call reality…is a hoax and that each of us is alone sharing …life with a race of deceivers" (110). [like the Matrix] Asimov's (among others) theme: humanity as a bacteria developed by higher organism(s) for their use (pleasure, entertainment) as we cultivate bacteria to our benefit (114). Humanity as puppet [theological] (115).
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚC. Commerce and Exploitation
"Realistic" SF involving old sins: "rapacity, guile, and an emptiness of sensibility ranging from the silly to the inhuman." Characteristic of genre in SF: exploiters all powerful so government is impotent; ad agencies sometimes more powerful than industrial czars; humans as consumer either possess too much at the cost of "creativity, vitality, and freedom" or is poverty stricken. Motiveless obsession with power. (116).
*Pohl often deals with the greed of the huckster and the weakness and "vacuity of consumer-man" (117). Some of his work borders on horror: Man as part of experment in advertising or manipulated into obsessive consumerism. He makes ads and their effects outrageous to show reader's vulnerability to them (117). Pohl worked in advertising. He creates "mercantile dytopias." He writes satire. World resources are reduced to nothing and the exploiters go to rape more planets. (118) His future world "tie[s] in with every basic trauma and neuroses in American life today" (119). His protagonist is an oblivious victim of the abuser of power in the system he functions in. He revels in a world of ever-increasing production and consumption (119). Ultimately the protagonist comes to his senses.
*Pohl and Kornbluth create a novel in which over-commercialized U. S. is in a state of moral collapse. (120) Pohl's work is in response to the over-production following WWII.
*Damon Knight also responds to the ears of the decades after WWII. Commercial conglomerates take over the U. S. His work reflects tear Τthat commerce, using … technology and …behavioral science, is a threat to human liberty" (122).
*Silverberg has ad agency prepare earthlings for extermination of the population of a planet that the corporation wants to exploit. All this shows the "banality of evil" (122). Ordinary people unfeelingly ready to exploit "others" (122). Insensitivity of middle-class managers to those whose lives they trample on (123). Silverberg's androids are created by Krug t be used as objects. But they think of selves as people (since they have minds and "hearts" (feelings) and worship Krug and believe he will deliver them (126-7). Theological implications: Gods privileged to please only themselves; however, they create people, with reasoning and feeling powers who believe gods have a responsibility to save what they've created. Also humans as created are obliged to serve gods, but given reason, they expect and demand salvation. (127).
In Ira Levin's "The Stepford Wives" high achieving and independent women are murdered by husbands who replace them with androids they manufacture. The Novel as a response to male resentment of women's lib (128-9). Theory of George Gilder: woman are naturally sexually superior: they have "ongoing sexual authenticity". Men compensate with social advantages, especially with respect to work and money. Women's lib undermines the "source of social continuity and order". Men respond by "becoming sexual predators, delinquents, homosexuals, escapees, Machiavels, or whatever confirms their masculinity" (129). Result: everyone exploits everyone else. Villain is egotism. Can be "insensitive egotism of *consciencelessness…[or *according to Blish] ruthless egotism of conscience" (130). Blish and Asimov consider the moral blindness of scientific exploitation that results from greed for $ and/or desire to maintain reputation and tradition (130).
*Blish also writes of a highly intelligent, perfectly moral species of aliens so threatening to Catholicism that they are exorcized into annihilation. (Or maybe scientist subjugated the aliens to produce thermonuclear material) (132).
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚD. The Revolt of Youth
In the mid to late 60s, SF dystopian novels have youth rebellion and its failure as theme. The youth in them are initially vacuous or succumb to the same moral evils as their ineffectual elders. The "dominant fact" in the novels and sociology of the "angry youth is that those shared values forming the center have given way and that never before have they given was so quickly and thoroughly" (142). In some novels the end promises the restoration of the center but in others, including one by Marge Percy) the two societies-young and old confront each other indefinitely" (142)
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚA. Nuclear War
A number of novels (incl On the Beach) use atomic power and its potential misuse as themes. "A Canticle for Liebowitz" suggests that humanity will continue to return to war over and over. (151). Berger suggests scientific marvels of our age have "spawned complication, frustration, and fear" (153). Miller's hero who saves not earth but a segment of humanity is clerical (Catholic or Episcopal?) and anti-scientific. (154). Miller's Canticle is a pessimistic postscript to an earlier story when people are to learn to use machines wisely and have the potential to do so. (155)
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚB. The Population Explosion
*Ignored in SF prior to the 60s. (155). In 1967 James Blish and Norman Knight write in response to scientific predictions about overpopulation. Resolution: Interstellar travel to relieve the earth. (156). Their warning is not against fertility but vs. "the erector-set mentality, whose nature is not respect, and humility, but …to welcome [problems] as invitations to human resourcefulness or the spurs to some great destiny" (158). [Global warming!]
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚC. Race War in America
Berger suggests that race wars make easier SF than racial harmony ((166).
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚD. The Obsessional Catastrophe (Prophetic of Biblical fundamentalism?)
Dystopian lit deals with "obeisance to the gods, the search for certainty, the relief from strain, the fear of death, the drive for knowledge, the will to dominate" in their most extreme *forms where they overpower all else (176). Wouk deals with the obsession of war (177). On one level he satirizes this obsession. On the other, he satirizes the obsession to keep the obsession (180).
Another novel deals with the fear of life–self-mutilating fear of the tendency towards war. (181-2). That is, the obsession of pacifism at all cost. Huxley deals with the obsession of self-hating (182-3) and the worship of "hatred," i.e. the devil. Machine age as giving victory to the devil over God. (183). John Wyndham's novel deals with the obsession to regain God's favor (184).
These 3 novels have obsessions that seem possible. Would provide possible accommodation to post-catastrophic world.
*Clifford Simak–his protag's obsessive drive for immortality "poisons the living present" (185). Drive for and $ needed to research resurrecting dead make people live sterile, rigid, puritanical lives. Religion and science play opposite roles in his novel. Science controls everything tyranically. Life becomes joyless even while immortality is sought. The result is an "obsessive, self-defeating humanism" (187). Evelyn Waugh deals with soft penology where sociopaths are treated to lovely accommodations and no one is judged responsible for crimes (187).
*Damon Knight possibly inspired by Waugh has psychopathic narrator free to act as he will but never acknowledged. Programmed to terrible sickness if he tries to commit violent acts. Both novels deal with obsessive or overdone humanitarianism.
The novels appear to respond to "faintheartedness disguising itself as magnanimity" (187). Respond to loss of ethical absolutes in our time. 187 Possible so to authors' fears of the new "thing" coming which will subtly and compellingly "repeal the past" (188).
*Silverberg novel with religious cult that choose to drink amnesia-producing water to drown sorrows. (188). Another novel: religious belief: produce babies. Anyone against the system is thrown "down the chute." Causes over-population [but accommodated] of conformists who eschew "adventure, power, and knowledge" and have no desire for property (189). Silverberg posits extremism may alter history (189). A different writer suggests human civilization depends on creative individuals, not sociable majority (199). [Gore Vidal writes of a world with a death-wish 190ff]
SF as "Nightmare world of the future" is a genre. Sometimes it is called Futopia; Cacatopia; negative Utopia or Anti-utopia. (199). Berger associates and situates its growth with/in the development of nuclear arms, the draining of humanity by technology, (199), government service of self and regimentation of its people; psychology that discovers thing after thing about the human psyche but still can't cure mental illness; and "the formulas, the instruments, the progress, and the will, one fears [by natural and social scientists] to change man into something other than man" (sic 200). H. G. Wells went from celebrating scientific advancement to regretting it. "Dead is te dream of the scientific Utopia" (200). "Pure anti-utopian fiction not only describes abhorrent and warped societies but ascribes their dystopian features to their utopian programs." It shows dehumanized people and or "perverted natural order." Its authors manifest a crisis of confidence in humanity. (201). According to Berger, we need to figure out what paths not to follow and what actions not to take (202).
Question: What is human? Robots (Nexus 6) have become more intelligent than their creators. Also, given implanted "memories" and feelings (?), they threaten to evolve. However, their planned life span is only 4 years. They have been coming to earth to have this effect reversed.
Harrison Ford stars as a "bladerunner"–an agent of a special force whose mission is to seek out and kill the rebel robots. He falls in love with a robot and escapes North with her (Canada? Oregon? Alaska?)